Northwest Territories

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Northwest Territories

Northwest Territories, territory (2001 pop. 37,360), 532,643 sq mi (1,379,028 sq km), NW Canada. The Northwest Territories lie W of Nunavut, N of lat. 60°N, and E of Yukon. Until 1999, when the Northwest Territories were divided and the eastern portion became Nunavut, the region occupied more than one third of Canada's area. Yellowknife is the territorial capital.

Land and People

Geographically, the region is largely south of the tree line, which runs roughly northwest to southeast, from the Mackenzie River delta in the Arctic Ocean to the southeastern corner of the territory. Tundra characterizes the land north of the tree line; there the native inhabitants depend on hunting, fur-trapping, and making arts and crafts for income, and obtain many necessities from fish, seals, reindeer, and caribou. Most of the development in the territory has taken place south of the tree line, where the land is well covered with soft woods and rich in minerals. Here, too, are two of the largest lakes in the world, Great Slave and Great Bear, linked to the Arctic Ocean by one of the world's longest rivers, the Mackenzie, which runs 1,120 mi (1,800 km) from its source in Great Slave Lake. The Northwest Territories are the site of the northern end of Wood Buffalo National Park (est. 1922) and all of Nahanni National Park (est. 1972).


Agriculture in the Northwest Territories is virtually impossible except for limited cultivation south of the Mackenzie River region. Trapping, the region's oldest industry, ranks second after mining. A thriving commercial fishing industry, based on whitefish and lake trout, is centered on the village of Hay River, on Great Slave Lake. Minerals are now the Territories' most valuable natural resource. Oil is pumped and refined at Tulita (formerly Fort Norman) and Norman Wells on the Mackenzie River; copper is extracted on the Coppermine River; and diamonds and gold are being produced in increasing quantities. The region also has tungsten, silver, cadmium, nickel, zinc, and lead. Important hydroelectric developments are on the Talston and Snare rivers.

Transportation and Communication

Transportation and communication in the Northwest Territories are difficult. Long winters close the rivers to navigation for all but two months of the year. Despite the Great Slave Railway and the Mackenzie highway system, which links Alberta to the Great Slave area, commerce, supply, and travel continue to be largely airborne. The region has scores of airfields. An ongoing northern roads program, launched in 1966, is helping to open up the area. The Liard Highway, opened in 1984, ties Ft. Simpson to the Alaska Highway. Other highways link Inuvik to the Yukon and Hay River and Yellowknife to the highways of Alberta. In winter, some frozen rivers and lakes are used for road traffic. There are also extensive telecommunications services.


The territory is governed by a 19-member assembly that elects a premier and cabinet; an appointed commissioner holds a position similar to that of a lieutenant governor in the Canadians provinces. The territory sends one senator and one representative to the national parliament.


When European incursions into the area began, they encountered the hunting and fishing Inuit and Dene. Vikings from Greenland may have been the first Europeans to venture into the eastern portion of the Northwest Territories, now Nunavut. Sir Martin Frobisher was the first in a long line of explorers to seek a Northwest Passage, but it was Henry Hudson who discovered the gateway to the Northwest (Hudson Bay) in 1610.

For several decades the Hudson's Bay Company sent trader-explorers through the northern sea lanes and along the coast, and in 1771, Samuel Hearne walked from Hudson Bay and descended the Coppermine River. In 1789, Alexander Mackenzie, exploring for the North West Company, journeyed to the mouth of the Mackenzie River. Sir John Franklin made scientific expeditions to the Arctic Northwest in the first half of the 19th cent., obtaining valuable geographical data.

The area that is now the Northwest Territories and Nunavut was part of the vast lands sold by the Hudson's Bay Company to the new Canadian confederation in 1870. Some of those lands were added to the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. The province of Manitoba was carved from them in 1870, and Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905, all south of 60°N. Yukon had become separate in 1898. The boundaries of the Northwest Territories were then set in 1912 and remained fixed until the creation of Nunavut in 1999. In 2013 an agreement between the territorial and federal governments called for Northwest Territories to assume control over public lands and natural resources in 2014.

Since the 1982 patriation of the Canadian constitution (see Canada Act), several land claims by native peoples have been making their way through the courts and the federal government. In 1992, Northwest Territories residents voted to divide the territory roughly along ethnic lines, with the Inuit in the east and the Dene in the west. The new territory of Nunavut, dominated by the Inuit, came into existence on Apr. 1, 1999. This split the Northwest Territories along a zigzag line running from the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border through the Arctic Archipelago to the North Pole. Other native groups with claims are the Métis and the Inuvialuit. Bob McLeod became the Territories' premier in Oct., 2011.


See R. A. Phillips, Canada: The Story of the Yukon and Northwest Territories (1966); K. J. Rea, Political Economy of the North (1968, repr. 1981); W. C. Wonders, ed., The North (1972); T. R. Berger, Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland (1976).

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Northwest Territories


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.